20th Century Architecture
Social migration, WWII ruin and a rich cultural history have left Wrocław with a patchwork of architectural patterns. The last 100 years in particular have seen an aggressive program of construction that has left the city looking as odd as it is beautiful. The most well documented landmarks were completed in the dawn of the previous century: The Hala Ludowa (1913, I-4) and the Hala Targowa (1908, C-2), both leading examples of concrete architecture of the time. But as impressive as both of these monoliths are, they should not overshadow the achievements of what was to come.
The 1920s saw overcrowding push authorities into constructing a series of suburban housing estates on the outskirts of Wrocław. Sępólno, the highlight of these, can be found directly west of the centre. The tree-lined avenues and neat two-storey houses are unremarkable in themselves, but the street plan is unique to Poland; a network of streets which, when viewed from above, depict the emblem of Dolnyśląsk (Lower Silesia) – the black eagle. Designed as a self-contained community, the scheme was hailed as a model estate of the time.
The whole inter-war period saw a spurt of architectural development and innovation, with what was once the Petersdorff department store on ul. Szewska being a prime example. The work of expressionist architect, Erich Mendelsohn, the building was completed in 1928 and features a curved glass corner. Other surviving examples of superb 1920s thinking include the buildings in the vicinity of ul. Kopernika; designed by avant-garde architects Rading and Lauterbach, the whole project was the result of the ‘House and Workplace’ exhibition/competition held back in 1929.
Examples of socialist realism are few and far between in Wrocław, though fans of Moscow and Minsk will delight at the sight of pl. Kościuszki (A-5). Very loosely modelled on Warsaw’s marvellously austere pl. Konstytucji it was one of the first ‘new’ housing districts to be built in the wake of the WWII. Constructed between 1952 and finished in 1958 the uniform granite buildings, and wide boulevards, hold a vague Soviet charm. Historians might be interested to note that the nearby ul. Piłsudskiego has in the past been named in honour of Hitler, Stalin and General Świerczewski (a lesser known, but equally nasty Polish communist).
Though the 1960s can hardly be described as a period of inspiration, the tower blocks by ul. Neringha (H-4) are a fabulous example of the bold concrete wisdom of the time, and look like something straight from science fiction. Most recently architects have reverted to traditional aesthetics, ul. Kiełbaśnicza (A-2/3) being the prime example; meticulous copies of nineteenth century façades shielding state-of-the-art offices and hotels.